Monday Scramble: Good Day, shaky Rory at Bay Hill

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2016, 4:00 pm

Jason Day goes wire-to-wire, Rory McIlroy struggles to find his groove, Henrik Stenson has another close call and golf's most noticeable intern shines. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

"Masters favorite wins golf tournament."

That's been the standing headline for weeks on the PGA Tour, and it once again held for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This time the player in question happened to be Day.

Day battled back from a wobbly final round to seal a wire-to-wire victory, and in the process stamped his name as just the latest star who will take a trophy with him down Magnolia Lane in a few weeks' time.

First Bubba Watson, then Adam Scott and last week it was former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel in the winner's circle. The big names are playing some of their best golf, and it's just in time for the event that everyone has circled on their calendar.


1. Day bombed his way around Bay Hill for the first three days, but the part of his game that delivered when it counted was his short game.

The Aussie started the final round with a chip-in birdie on No. 2 to extend his lead, then closed out Kevin Chappell with a sublime up-and-down from the bunker on No. 18.

"I holed a lot of shots out this week," he said. "Moreso than I've ever done in my career."

He also holed plenty on the greens. While he's thought of as a power player, Day actually led the field in strokes gained-putting at Bay Hill and needed only 100 putts. He's also second in SGP on Tour this season, all while averaging over 300 yards per drive.

It's a potent combination for nearly any venue, but one in north Georgia especially comes to mind.

2. Day pulled off an improbable feat Sunday: he got a leg up on Tiger Woods at Bay Hill. Woods has eight API titles, but none of his wins were in wire-to-wire fashion. Day took it home the whole way, and while playing from ahead was clearly taxing over the weekend, Day proved once again – as he did at the PGA Championship and BMW Championship last summer - that he has the goods.

He also now has a nugget with which to rib Woods.

"I never knew that, and I will text him that tonight," Day said.

3. That text chain with Woods became a common thread over the weekend in Orlando, as Day was candid about the tips and advice he has received from the 14-time major champ.

It speaks to Day's cerebral nature, as well as the time and attention he devotes to the mental side of the game. But it also highlights the fact that at age 28, Day is among a group of players who viewed Woods first as a hero, then as a peer.

Day was nine when Woods won his first Masters, and he was 13 when Woods completed the "Tiger Slam." Players closer to Woods in age might recoil at the thought of hitting up the former star for pearls of wisdom, but Day clearly has no such hesitation – and he seems to be reaping the benefits as a result.



4. McIlroy came to Bay Hill hoping to iron out any inconsistencies in his game. That plan, uh, did not pan out.

McIlroy was all over the board this past week, carding rounds of 75-67-75-65. He started by hooking his first tee shot out of bounds, closed with a 59-foot birdie bomb and had plenty of peaks and valleys in between.

The glaring concern for McIlroy with the Masters looming, though, is the penchant for big numbers. McIlroy had only two bogeys all week, but his six double bogeys – including four over the weekend – were a career-high on the PGA Tour.

"It's more mental," he said. "I'm beating myself up over mistakes that I'm making on the course, then I'm not letting myself get over it so that it sort of lingers there for the next few holes."

McIlroy gets points for his candor, but his telling self-assessment could be a bit of a red flag for the Masters. No place compounds mistakes quite like Augusta National – a fact that McIlroy himself knows all too well.

5. Of course, McIlroy wasn't the only big name making big numbers at Bay Hill. Adam Scott won despite doubles and quads at Doral and PGA National, but his luck ran out in his quest to win three straight thanks in large part to the closing hole.

Scott found the water with his approach each of the last two rounds on No. 18, leading to a third-round triple and a closing double. While he finished a respectable T-12, he would've been T-3 if he simply turned those into a pair of pars.



6. Henrik Stenson played his way into contention for the fourth straight year at Bay Hill, and for the fourth straight year he left without the trophy.

Stenson said this year's T-3 finish, which saw his title hopes doomed with a watery approach to No. 16, didn't sting as much as last year when he coughed up a late lead to Matt Every. But still, if a win's a win, the opposite is true as well.

With so many big names winning tournaments, Stenson's relative drought – his last win came at the 2014 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai – seems even more noticeable, especially after five runner-ups last year.

6. Much was made this week about a perceived lack of field strength at Bay Hill, especially among American players. While five of the top eight in the world teed it up in Orlando, Brandt Snedeker (No. 17) and Zach Johnson (No. 20) were the highest-ranking Americans in the field.

But here's the deal – you can't have it both ways. You can't assign perceived importance to four majors, plus four WGCs, plus the FedEx Cup Playoffs, plus The Players ... and then question why a player doesn't show at a given Tour stop, even one that honors a living legend.

You also can't spend weeks (justifiably) questioning Jordan Spieth's ambitious playing schedule, then raise an eyebrow when the world No. 1 finally takes a week off.

Schedules are difficult to set under the best of circumstances, but the grind that awaits this summer as golf makes room for the Olympics is far from ideal. Let's hold off on raking players over the coals for taking a breather.



7. You have to feel for Tim Hart. The Aussie stood on the 18th tee Sunday at the Queensland PGA needing a par to shoot a 58 and win the tournament. Instead, he yanked his tee shot out of bounds, made a triple bogey for a 61 and ultimately lost in a playoff.

As it turns out, Hart channeled Jesper Parnevik at the 1994 Open Championship by not looking at a leaderboard - with similarly disastrous results.

"If I'd known I was three or four shots in front," he said, "maybe the 2-iron comes out."

Hart displayed some commendable perspective in the aftermath of his meltdown, adding that if he was offered a spot in a playoff after starting the final round in 20th, he would've taken it. But chances at a sub-60 round present themselves only so often.

8. Two-time Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal announced last week that he will miss the Masters next month. Combined with Jim Furyk's wrist injury, this means that the projected Masters field is 90 names deep – the same as it was on Jan. 1.

The only two players to earn their tickets in 2016 are Pebble Beach champ Vaughn Taylor and Paul Chaplet, who won the Latin American Amateur. Every other PGA Tour winner was already qualified for the season's first major.

A few players at this week's WGC-Dell Match Play could crash the party by cracking the top 50 in the world ranking, but after that there's only one golden ticket left for the winner of next week's Shell Houston Open.

9. While the big names take on Austin Country Club this week, the rest of the PGA Tour will head to the Caribbean for the Puerto Rico Open. While the field is largely dotted with players chasing the two-year exemption that goes to the winner, two big names stick out.

Ian Poulter is first alternate at the Match Play, but if he doesn't get in by the tournament's Wednesday start, he said he'll fly to Puerto Rico. It would be the end of an era for Poulter, who has played every WGC-Match Play since 2004 but is now 67th in the world.

The other notable is a former world No. 1, Luke Donald. Donald missed the cut at Bay Hill, has yet to crack the top 20 in nine PGA Tour starts this season and is improbably down to No. 92 in the latest rankings.

It's a coup for the good folks in Puerto Rico to have Donald and potentially Poulter in the field, but it's also a sobering reminder of how fast things can change in this game.



10. A cool scene broke out at the Hero Indian Open, where S.S.P. Chawrasia finally captured his country's biggest event.

Helped in part by an improbable escape from the shrubs (above), Chawrasia erased the pain of four prior runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss last year, to win by two shots. Chawrasia may not be a household name – the S.S.P. stands for Shiv Shankar Prasad, by the way – but American fans would do well to learn it.

Chawrasia was already in line for an Olympic berth, but this win moves him inside the OWGR top 150 and virtually guarantees that he will represent India in Rio along with Anirban Lahiri, who finished T-2.

In one of the week's more bizarre storylines, a man who heckled Poulter at Valspar – and bragged about it – ultimately lost his job after Poulter's above tweet created some backlash.

The lesson, as always, when it comes to social media: use caution when trolling, but for goodness sake make sure you don't have a reference to your employer in your handle. Which reminds me, I might have to go back and make some edits from the archives...

This week's award winners ... 


Going (seriously) low: Sei Young Kim torched the field at the LPGA Founders Cup, shooting 27 under for the week to tie Annika Sorenstam's all-time LPGA scoring record. Anytime you get your name next to Annika's in the record books you're doing something right, and it shows once again that the South Korean Olympic battle will be one of the most intriguing races to play out this summer.

Snapchat savage: API runner-up Kevin Chappell had been in a bit of a slump until the final round last week in Tampa. Playing by himself, he Snapchatted his way through the round and "had a blast."

"I have like 10 followers on Snapchat," he said. "It was hilarious. We were having fun with it."

Whether the suits in Ponte Vedra find it "hilarious" that he was using the social media app during a competitive round, though, remains to be seen. But his bounceback at Bay Hill shows that inspiration can come from nearly anywhere.

Not just a trick shot artist: The Bryan brothers have made their mark in golf through various trick-shot videos (and an appearance on Big Break), but they may soon be heading to the PGA Tour. With his brother on the bag, Wesley Bryan took the title at the Web.com Louisiana Open, taking a big step toward a spot in the big leagues next season.



Congrats, intern: Bryson DeChambeau's self-described "internship" is drawing to a close, and he capped it in style with a final-round 66 playing alongside Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill.

It was a far cry from the 78 he shot earlier this year in Abu Dhabi when the two were paired, and his short game drew praise from McIlroy. DeChambeau is expected to turn pro after the Masters, and cracked a grin when asked how comfortable he feels on the big stage.

"Pretty darn comfortable," he said. Sure seems that way.

Grab an abacus: Day's win drew him within 0.374 points of Spieth atop the world rankings. That means that after weeks of having Spieth safely atop the standings, it's time to start breaking out the bevy of hypothetical scenarios and finish combinations that could vault Day back to world No. 1 http://www.golfchannel.com/news/associated-press/bryan-breaks-through-webcom-win-louisiana/ all of it just in time for the most unpredictable event of the year.

Theoretical brackets: The format changes for the WGC-Match Play are in their second year, and while they could still produce some tasty matchups, the old format would have seen McIlroy take on Graeme McDowell in the first round. Oh, and we would have been one withdrawal away from a Spieth-Poulter opening-round tilt. Ah, what might have been.

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PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.